Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Goldfish - A Short Story

     Four goldfish swam in a sunken bowl pond fringed with water grass in the small walled garden.  The garden adjoined the dormitory where the whores lived in an off-limits part of town.  There were four of us lounging on the gravel surface surrounding the pond, young soldiers who were a few weeks away from finishing a two-year tour of duty in Japan, and just a few months more from being discharged into civilian life.  We were having morning tea  in the garden which was reached by an open side door of the dormitory.  Well, all except Mike - he was drinking beer.
     "How do we get out of this part of town where we're not supposed to be without being seen?," I asked.
     Don was acknowledged as our group leader.  He said "We ask mama-san to call us a cab.  We can't get in trouble if we are seen riding through."
     "The hell we can't," I said.
     "We'll blame it on the driver," said Don.
     "What'll we do today?" said Mike.
     Virgil said "Why don't we catch a matinee?  The new Cinemascope is over in Fukuoka."  Virgil liked movies.
     "Maybe," Don said.
     "After the movie, what?" I said.
     "Let's go to the turkey farm," said Don.
     "Gobble, gobble, gobble," said Mike.
     "The turkey farm," I said, "Where's that?"
     "Gobble, gobble," said Mike again.
     "In Fukuoka," said Don.  "Hey, mama-san," he called.
     An old woman in a robe came to the door.  Coming up from her bow, she smiled.  She had a face like a marbled gourd.
     "Mama-san, dozo," said Don, "Please get a rickshaw for us."
     "Hai," she said, bowing again and disappearing inside.
     "Gobble, gobble," said Mike, rubbing his crotch.
     "I didn't know they had turkeys in Japan," I said.
     "Geez, Tom," said Don, laughing with the others, "We're not talking about turkeys.  It's girls who gobble your meat.  They call the place the turkey farm."
     "I know," I said lamely.
     "Sure you do," said Mike.
     "We'll take the train to Fukuoka and talk about what to do on the way," said Don.
      All agreed that was a good idea and fell silent, staring at the goldfish until Virgil spoke.  "What are you guys going to do when you get out?"
     "Geez," said Mike, "Who wants to talk about that now?"
     "Well, I've been thinking  about it lately.  Thinking alot about it."
     "Hell, Virgil," said Don, "there must be something you like to do.  Pick something and try it."
     "That's just it.  I can't.  I don't have a choice.  Something's already happened and that's what I'll do, that's what I'll be."  Virgil was more morose than usual.
     "That's crazy.  You can choose."
     "I don't know, Don."  Virgil pointed to the dormitory.  "Last night I'm watching a Japanese girl get the bed ready.  I don't know her name.  She doesn't know mine.  She's naked and so am I.  We're gonna screw each other, and sleep together.  She's in there now if I want more, and it comes to me.  She didn't want to be a whore and I didn't want to be in Japan.  But some old guys started a war fifteen or twenty years ago and here we are.  We had no choice."
     "Well, Virgil," said Mike, "did you screw her or just think about it?"
     "That girl and I ought to be doing something else in some other place, but here we are with nothing to say about it.  Do you see what I mean?  Don't you think there's stuff we can't explain?"
     "You mean," said Don, "like why don't girls whistle?"
     "Or why don't birds fly upside down?" said Mike.
     We were all smiling, good-natured in the tease.
     "Come on, Virgil." said Don, "you sound like a kid."
     Virgil swatted the air with his hand.  "I know that.  I just don't wanna...I don't know... I don't wanna live with nothin' to say...oh, Hell."
     "You will, Virgil," I said.
     "Maybe," Virgil said, but I'm telling you Life has secrets that we don't know anything about."
     "Worse than that," said Mike, "is to know what the secrets are but you don't understand them."
     "No, worse than that," said Don, "is to know what they are and understand them but not know how to use them."
     Don and Mike were laughing.  They looked at me to see what I had to say.  I was looking at the goldfish in the pond.  They were motionless in the water save for the flutter of their gills.  I knew what Virgil meant.  Things happen to people that they just can't seem to do anything about.  My father tried one thing, then another, and nothing went the way he expected.  So he gave up and drank and left the family alone.  My mother grew bitter, silent.  My sisters drifted away.  But I knew what I was going to do.   I was going to re-enlist.  It had come to me one night in barracks when I couldn't sleep and I lay there listening to the sounds one hears in a facility open every hour of every day.  Even when you were asleep, I thought, you knew that out there on the base life was continous, lights were on, work was getting done, a friend was smiling and talking.  And, on waking, it was all there waiting for you to step in and take your place and do your job and keep things whole while others slept. Life had mutuality.  You felt important.  And there were no big life secrets to worry about.  How about that, I got ready to say as I came back from my reverie to hear Mike finish saying "...damn sure won't find me re-upping in this goddamn army."
     "That's for sure," said Don.  Virgil agreed.
     "Hey," I said, "let's go to Fukuoka and find those turkeys."
     Laughing, we rose quickly, stumbling into each other to get inside.  The goldfish fled to the shadowy water grass.

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